The Questions of King Milinda

Book 4: The solving of dilemmas

Chapter 1

5.1.8. The Buddha’s Sinlessness

‘Venerable Nāgasena, had the Blessed One, when he became a Buddha, burnt out all evil in himself, or was there still some evil remaining in him?’

‘He had burnt out all evil. There was none left.’

‘But how, Sir? Did not the Tathāgata get hurt in his body?’

‘Yes, O king. At Rājagaha a splinter of rock pierced his foot, and once he suffered from dysentery, and once when the humours of his body were disturbed a purge was administered to him, and once when he was troubled with wind the Elder who waited on him (that is Ānanda) gave him hot water.’

‘Then, Sir, if the Tathāgata, on his becoming a Buddha, has destroyed all evil in himself—this other statement that his foot was pierced by a splinter, that he had dysentery, and so on, must be false. But if they are true, then he cannot have been free from evil, for there is no pain without Karma. All pain has its root in Karma, it is on account of Karma that suffering arises. This double-headed dilemma is put to you, and you have to solve it.’

‘No, O king. It is not all suffering that has its root in Karma. There are eight causes by which sufferings arise, by which many beings suffer pain. And what are the eight? Superabundance of wind, and of bile, and of phlegm, the union of these humours, variations in temperature, the avoiding of dissimilarities, external agency, and Karma. From each of these there are some sufferings that arise, and these are the eight causes by which many beings suffer pain. And therein whosoever maintains that it is Karma that injures beings, and besides it there is no other reason for pain, his proposition is false.’

‘But, Sir, all the other seven kinds of pain have each of them also Karma as its origin, for they are all produced by Karma.’

‘If, O king, all diseases were really derived from Karma then there would be no characteristic marks by which they could be distinguished one from the other. When the wind is disturbed, it is so in one or other of ten ways—by cold, or by heat, or by hunger, or by thirst, or by over eating, or by standing too long, or by over exertion, or by walking too fast, or by medical treatment, or as the result of Karma. Of these ten, nine do not act in a past life or in a future life, but in one’s present existence. Therefore it is not right to say that all pain is due to Karma. When the bile, O king, is deranged it is so in one or other of three ways—by cold, or by heat, or by improper food. When the phlegm is disturbed it is so by cold, or by heat, or by food and drink. When either of these three humours are disturbed or mixed, it brings about its own special, distinctive pain. Then there are the special pains arising from variations in temperature, avoidance of dissimilarities, and external agency. And there is the act that has Karma as its fruit, and the pain so brought about arising from the act done. So what arises as the fruit of Karma is much less than that which arises from other causes. And the ignorant go too far when they say that every pain is produced as the fruit of Karma. No one without a Buddha’s insight can fix the extent of the action of Karma.’

‘Now when the Blessed One’s foot was torn by a splinter of rock, the pain that followed was not produced by any other of the eight causes I have mentioned, but only by external agency. For Devadatta, O king, had harboured hatred against the Tathāgata during a succession of hundreds of thousands of births. It was in his hatred that he seized hold of a mighty mass of rock, and pushed it over with the hope that it would fall upon his head. But two other rocks came together, and intercepted it before it had reached the Tathāgata; and by the force of their impact a splinter was torn off, and fell upon the Blessed One’s foot, and made it bleed. Now this pain must have been produced in the Blessed One either as the result of his own Karma, or of some one else’s act. For beyond these two there can be no other kind of pain. It is as when a seed does not germinate—that must be due either to the badness of the soil, or to a defect in the seed. Or it is as when food is not digested—that must be due either to a defect in the stomach, or to the badness of the food.’

‘But although the Blessed One never suffered pain which was the result of his own Karma, or brought about the avoidance of dissimilarity, yet he suffered pain from each of the other six causes. And by the pain he could suffer it was not possible to deprive him of life. There come to this body of ours, O king, compounded of the four elements, sensations desirable and the reverse, pleasant and unpleasant. Suppose, O king, a clod of earth were to be thrown into the air, and to fall again on to the ground. Would it be in consequence of any act it had previously done that it would so fall?’

‘No, Sir. There is no reason in the broad earth by which it could experience the result of an act either good or evil. It would be by reason of a present cause independent of Karma that the clod would fall to earth again.’

‘Well, O king, the Tathāgata should be regarded as the broad earth. And as the clod would fall on it irrespective of any act done by it, so also was it irrespective of any act done by him that that splinter of rock fell upon his foot.’

‘Again, O king, men tear up and plough the earth. But is that a result of any act previously done?’

‘Certainly not, Sir.’

‘Just so with the falling of that splinter. And the dysentery which attacked him was in the same way the result of no previous act, it arose from the union of the three humours. And whatsoever bodily disease fell upon him, that had its origin, not in Karma, but in one or other of the six causes referred to. For it has been said, O king, by the Blessed One, by him who is above all gods, in the glorious collection called the Samyutta Nikāya in The prose Sutta, called after Moliya Sīvaka: “There are certain pains which arise in the world, Sīvaka, from bilious humour. And you ought to know for a certainty which those are, for it is a matter of common knowledge in the world which they are. But those Samanas and Brahmans, Sīvaka, who are of the opinion and proclaim the view that whatsoever pleasure, or pain, or indifferent sensation, any man experiences, is always due to a previous act—they go beyond certainty, they go beyond knowledge, and therein do I say they are wrong. And so also of those pains which arise from the phlegmatic humour, or from the windy humour, or from the union of the three, or from variation in temperature, or from avoidance of dissimilarity, or from external action, or as the result of Karma. In each case you should know for a certainty which those are, for it is a matter of common knowledge which they are. But those Samanas or Brahmans who are of the opinion or the view that whatsoever pleasure, or pain, or indifferent sensation, any man may experience, that is always due to a previous act—they go beyond certainty, they go beyond common knowledge. And therein do I say they are wrong.” So, O king, it is not all pain that is the result of Karma. And you should accept as a fact that when the Blessed One became a Buddha he had burnt out all evil from within him.’

‘Very good, Nāgasena! It is so; and I accept it as you say.’

Here ends the dilemma as to the Buddha’s sinlessness.